Randy Yohe Published

Judge Prohibits Cell Phones In Three Eastern Panhandle Courthouses, Prompts Pushback  

Judges GavelWikimedia Commons

Last week, 23rd Judicial Court Chief Judge Stephen Redding issued an administrative order restricting the general public from bringing electronic devices that can record into the Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan county courthouses. 

The order focuses on safety and security while exempting courthouse employees and courtroom personnel, and provides special exemptions for things like weddings and drug court graduations. 

Eli Baumwell, ACLU West Virginia advocacy director, said cell phones are an everyday tool, and this ruling will disproportionately hurt people by treating cell phones like weapons. 

“It’s going to really cause problems,” Baumwell said. “Particularly for low-income people, people of color, people who are really disproportionately represented in these courts and oftentimes rely on their phones to do things like present evidence.”

The order notes that witnesses and jurors who have not necessarily consented to or volunteered to come to the courthouse have a right not to be photographed, recorded or their coming and goings disseminated outside the courthouse complex. The order states the use of such devices in the common areas of the courthouse may be authorized by the Chief Circuit Court Judge, or the presiding judges of Jefferson and Morgan counties.  

Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, said without knowing more about the safety and security reasons behind the order, it seems an impractical and inconvenient overreach. 

“For residents of the counties who have a lot of information on their phones or need to record information on their phones, be it in a clerk’s office or anywhere else in the courthouse,” Smith said. “It is something that will have to be challenged in terms of the legality of him being able to do this.”

The order said exemptions can also come from presiding judicial officers, and that violators can be fined or imprisoned or face a contempt of court charge.

Redding’s law clerk responded to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s request for comment and said, “the rules of judicial conduct do not permit this office to comment on what may become a litigated matter.”